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Two union-backed candidates won seats on Jeffco’s five-member school board after holding steady leads Tuesday evening.
Union-backed candidates already held the majority of seats on the Jeffco board. The election results show voters in Colorado’s second largest district reinforcing that majority.
“Jeffco voters have shown their support for our public schools via the ballot box, and clearly share our vision for strong neighborhood schools, the recruitment and retention of highly qualified educators, and a path for all students to find success in adulthood, even if they choose not to go to college,” said Kari Gray, social emotional learning specialist at Manning Middle School and chair of the union’s Political Action Team, in a press release.
Each seat represents a different district, but every Jeffco voter could select one candidate for each seat.
In District 3, currently represented by Stephanie Schooley, engineer Michelle Applegate won against college president Thomas Wicke.
In District 4, currently represented by Susan Miller, educator Erin Kenworthy took the lead over engineer Amara Hildebrand and advocate Joel Newton.
The county clerk’s office estimates they’ve counted more than 99% of the ballots cast.
The leading candidates in Jeffco received a lot of funding, in particular from union groups.
The teachers union endorsed Applegate and Kenworthy. Both candidates led in campaign fundraising by a wide margin, with more than $58,000 in contributions each. Wicke was the opponent with the next highest amount of campaign funds with more than $28,000 raised from business owners including Tim Walsh, owner of Confluence Builders and former candidate for a Senate seat, and from David Jones, a sitting council member in Arvada.
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Hildebrand and Wicke had been endorsed by Colorado Conservative Patriot Alliance, although that group hasn’t contributed funding.
In terms of outside spending by committees that are not allowed to coordinate with candidates, there has been $111,326 from Students Deserve Better, which is a teachers union funding group, and more than $56,000 from Better Jeffco Schools, which states it supports conservative candidates and is campaigning for Wicke and Hildebrand.
The new board will be responsible for helping the district through financial problems in part related to declining enrollment and the end of COVID relief funding. After closing district schools, the board is still going through the process of figuring out what to do with the empty buildings, and the school board will have a role in that.
After closing 16 elementary schools and consolidating three middle schools, the district is not expecting another phase of school closures in the immediate future. However, officials have said they will continue to reevaluate.
The new board will also quickly have an important decision to make on new charter applications to potentially fill a gap after the vote to close Coal Creek Canyon K-8. The district is hosting an expedited charter application process with a board vote on Jan. 10.
Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at firstname.lastname@example.org.